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Wolverine

Wilderness-loving carnivores, wolverines are powerful and relatively few. Washington's Cascades are one of the last places in the lower 48 where wolverines are known to exist.

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Cascades wolverine. CNW remote camera
Cascades wolverine. CNW remote camera

These seldom-seen carnivores favor remote, rugged, snowy landscapes like those of Washington's Cascades. Wolverines are the largest terrestrial members of the weasel family, mustelids.

Protection status: The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to protect wolverines as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. They extended a 2013 public comment period until 2014.

The new comment deadline is August 4, 2014.
"If wolverines have a strategy it's this: Go hard, and high and steep and never back down. Not even from the biggest grizzly and least of all from the mountain. Climb everything.... Eat everybody. Alive, dead, long dead, moose, mouse, fox, frog, it's still warm heart or frozen bones. ~ Doug Chadwick, The Wolverine Way

Wolverines are fierce and long distance hunters, covering great distances in their search for carrion, including ungulates killed by winter and other food. Shy of humans, their wide-ranging travel also makes it difficult for biologists to study them. Our citizen-run remote cameras have captured remarkable recent photos of wolverines.

Like mountain caribou, wolverines are survivors of an ice-age environment. They are threatened not only by habitat loss but by climate change, trapping, and highways and other development.

 [Latest news]  [Wolverine timeline]  [Quest to find the elusive wolverine]

Where wolverines live

Outside of Canada and Alaska, wolverines are now constrained to remote wilderness regions in the northern and western mountainous states, in areas like the Cascade Mountains and Rocky Mountains, where heavy snowpacks persist well into spring.

Wolverines were probably never very numerous, but following years of heavy trapping and indiscriminate poison-baiting aimed at other carnivores, they were lost from most of their US historical range by the early 1900s. Today, they are thought to number just 300 in the lower 48 states.

What we are doing

Washington State has experienced a flurry of wolverine activity; sightings have been reported from Mount Baker to Mount Adams. Federal researchers have tracked a total of eleven wolverines in the Cascades since 2005, seven females and four males, who live in the North Cascades transboundary to British Columbia region.

Conservation Northwest’s wildlife monitoring project has documented four individual  wolverines in the Cascades using unique chest markings and DNA from hair snags.

Wolverine facts
  • Female wolverines rely on deep snow for their dens, digging eight or more feet into the snow to provide warmth and shelter for kits.
  • Wolverines have thick dark brown fur with a honey-brown stripes traveling along each side from the shoulders to the base of the tail. One of the early indigenous names for them translated as "skunk bear."
  • The largest land-based animal of the weasel family, the wolverine weighs 15 to 40 pounds. (Larger mustelids are the sea otter and giant otter.)
  • These awesome predators have a keen sense of smell for finding food, for example animals like mountain goats killed by avalanche, buried deep beneath the snow.
  • Wolverines are predominantly scavengers of carrion of large mammals (including mountain goat, deer, elk, moose, and caribou). But they also prey on marmots, ground squirrels, snowshoe hares, and other small mammals. Like coyotes and other carnivores, they will also eat insects and berries.
  • Wolverines are capable of taking down animals five times their own body weight when snow conditions give them a predatory advantage. They are known to chase away cougars and grizzly bears!
  • Wolverines are most often solitary, except during mating season. But as we learn more about them, we see that they will hunt together occasionally and sometimes "hang with" siblings.
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